How to manage the emotional hijack
So, we’ve all had an emotional hijack moment. That moment when something not so good happens, and you become unglued and just react. It feels like something or someone has personally attacked you – with your project, your team, or even your life. It’s that fight or flight moment.
As humans, for our survival, we have needed skills to recognize when we are being threatened, and have needed to respond instantly to survive – fight or flight. Well, since we no longer live in caves and fight saber-toothed tigers, that mechanism is not as essential to our survival. However, our brains are still programmed to respond this way.
As leaders, how we choose to respond is critical. We model the acceptable behaviors for the team to follow. If we choose to react emotionally by yelling, slamming doors, or making personal attacks, we risk losing the respect of the team. Even worse, we’ve taught the team that this behavior is okay. It becomes an acceptable cultural norm.
So, how do we effectively manage through the hijack moment?
In the spirit of learning from the hijack moment, here’s a story of a leader that kept his emotions in balance.
Meet Ray. Ray is the operations manager for a dairy. He is a direct, result-oriented leader that cares about his team. His team works 365 days a year, 24 x 7. One night, his third shift leader calls him with a problem. One of the calves had a broken leg. Ray went straight to the dairy to address the issue. Once there, red-faced and firm-toned, he asked the shift leader, “what happened?” She responded that it was an accident. Ray quickly walked over to the injured animal, addressed the issue, and left quietly without addressing the other employees or leader.
When Ray later reflected on this moment, he said with surprise, “that was a hijack moment.” He recognized that he had completely lost control of his rational thoughts, and went straight to a place of personal fury. He was so angry with the shift leader for making a mistake, that even though he asked her what had happened, he had said it in such an emotional tone that she did not feel safe sharing the truth. And, he admitted that he had frightened the team around them.
So, what could have Ray done differently? I share this story and ask leaders that very question often. Most often, I hear he did the right thing walking away and clearing his head after addressing the issue. He had to react quickly to save the animal, but maybe he could have waited to address the leader later when he was more capable of rational thought. These moments happen all the time – and whether you need to take a short walk, take deep breathes, or just visualize a successful outcome – find a technique that works for you. Good leaders recognize the hijack moment, and pause to balance their emotional reaction with rational thoughts.
A few resources on emotional intelligence to note here: Shawn Anchor is one of my favorite authors on positive psychology. His Ted Talk, “The Happy Secret to Better Work,” is a must view. Also, Jonathan Haidt breaks down the emotional hijack concept very simply balancing the two brains – the rational “rider” and the emotional “elephant.” Another person I follow on LinkedIn, who has consistently great leadership articles on this topic is Dr. Travis Bradberry.
Leaders that keep their emotions in balance have better business results.
How will you balance your emotions?